Snake Bites | Vox Pop | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Snake Bites

A venomous ad from the master of political sleaze



I've seen some low-down, dirty, snake-in-the-grass negative TV campaign ads in my day, but Tricky Rick Santorum has not only taken the cake ... he's eaten it, digested it, regurgitated it, and put the damn thing on the boob tube.



I was already nauseated by the ad with his umpteen kids fronting for him, with its false allegations that people were criticizing Rick for moving his kids to Virginia so they could spend more time with him. Critics were simply noting Santorum's hypocrisy ... considering that in his first Congressional campaign, against Doug Walgren, Ricky ran ads criticizing Walgren for not living in the district.


But that ad is nothing compared to Santorum's new low in political advertising: the now-infamous "jailhouse ad" targeting Santorum's Democratic opponent in this year's Senate race, state Treasurer Bob Casey. The ad shows a supposed group of Casey supporters ... shady-looking characters from central casting ... sitting around a table playing cards in a jail cell. You keep waiting for Edward G. Robinson to bust in and say "OK, we're gonna rob a bank, see. Bobby Casey's drivin' the getaway car, see? Mmmyeaaahhh. See?"


The fact that Santorum uses actors dressed up as thugs to portray Casey's campaign team is by itself a slander. But the ad goes on to discuss various people who have given money to Casey's various campaigns for auditor general, governor and state treasurer over the years. It then contends that a number of them are "under investigation" and that one was convicted of a criminal offense. It calls these backers "Casey's campaign team."


Without endlessly enumerating every one of these people and their alleged offenses, here's all you need to know. Not one of these people is on Casey's Senate campaign team. Not one of these guys has contributed to Casey's Senate campaign. One of the guys is dead, without ever being convicted of anything.


Where I come from, we call advertising like this a lie.


And it turns out that two of these guys have also given money to Santorum. Santorum claims he gave that money to charity. But if guilt by association for campaign gifts is good for the goose, it's good for the slanderer.


Gotta give it up to my old pal John Brabender, the evil political-advertising genius of Brabender Cox who comes up with this crap. These ads do garner attention.


But no ad gets on the air without Tricky Rick's approval. And he's a low-down dirty snake of a campaigner. And if there were any doubt that that's true, that doubt disappears with the jailhouse ad.


The irony is that Casey has been ridiculously careful about whom he takes money from in this campaign. "Savage Love" columnist Dan Savage, whose column runs in this fine rag, tried to give money to Casey, because Savage hates Ricky the homophobe. But Casey, who unlike Tricky Rick supports civil unions for same-sex couples, was apparently concerned about looking too cozy with homos and didn't want to alienate the butter churners in the state's rural "T." So he gave Savage his money back.


How can you run an ad saying all these shady characters are part of the "Casey campaign team" when none of them are? How can you imply that Bob Casey surrounds himself with shady characters when he doesn't? Simple. You just have to put ethics aside, not to mention truth, and go for the jugular.


Santorum spokes-wench Erica Clayton Wright said on my radio show that Casey's campaign fund-raising is part of a "pattern." She went on to sling innuendo about Casey contributing money to New Jersey governor, and now outed gay guy, James McGreevey. Translation: Casey's a homo-loving money-funneling shady character. But innuendo aside, there's no evidence that Casey contributed to McGreevey.


Gov. Ed Rendell, who slugged it out with Casey in a nasty campaign for governor, told City Paper last week that Santorum's jailhouse ad was "a big mistake." Tricky Rick's softer ads were helping him in the polls, he says, but this one "reminds everyone of what they don't like about him" ... Santorum's polarizing, attack-dog style.


And if running ads with lies in them were a crime, Rick would be the one playing poker in the pokie.

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